According to David Wilkes of the Daily Mail, anthropologist Daniel Miller and ethnologist Zuzana Burikova have compiled the book Au Pair from their interviews with 50 au pairs in Britain, many of them originally from Slovakia. Said au pairs report that the moms they work for are lazy, choosing to play computer games or watch TV instead of taking care of their kids. One told the authors,
An English mother has three wonderful children ... she works only from home ... fortunately she has an au pair because to spread butter on toast for all three, to make their beds, defrost their ready-made food for dinner, to vacuum, iron, sweep the floor, this all would be really, really too much for an English mother.
Ouch. Also, English dads are letches. One invited an au pair to join him in the hot tub. Another strode into the room wearing just his underwear — says the victim of his exhibitionism, "I shouted and he only asked whether he had scared me." Perhaps the most damning allegation of all, though, is that British parents don't care about their kids. One au pair reports,
English mothers are constantly talking about quality time and feeling guilty if they were not actually reading to or directly playing with the children. Yet in most cases it was pretty clear they really did mean quality time rather than quantity time, given that it occupied such a short part of the day.
And Miller and Burikova say their interviewees in general felt that any parents who would employ an au pair "must, by definition, be either lazy, or lack proper care and consideration for children and for people in general." The Mail article takes a pretty somewhat dismissive tone towards working moms — Wilkes writes that the au pairs "were found to have a generally dim view of women who think they can 'have it all' by juggling the demands of work and family" — and there's a suggestion that British moms should learn from their au pairs' scorn and get back in the nursery where they belong. But rather than seeing Au Pair as an argument against combining work and motherhood, we should take it as a valuable perspective from a group whose voices are rarely heard.
Much has been written about childcare workers — in the US, often nannies rather than au pairs — by the women who employ them, like Mona Simpson, Caitlin Flanagan, and the anonymous busybodies of I Saw Your Nanny. Less common (with the exception, of course, of the glossy, fictionalized Nanny Diaries) is writing by nannies themselves, and Au Pair may confirm some moms' worst fears — the nanny actually thinks you suck. Oh, and your husband hits on her.
Instead of teaching us that working moms are lazy, though, maybe these revelations should remind us that the relationship between au pair and parents is one of business, not family, and that childcare workers deserve all the rights due any other employee. They're there to do a job, not provide titillation, and they deserve not to be sexually harassed. They deserve, as Mona Simpson has pointed out, fair pay and benefits. And though parents may like to imagine, as Wilkes says, that their au pairs will show "deference to a respected working mother with a fantastically busy life," they should remember what Au Pair makes so clear: just because someone takes care of your kids, it doesn't mean she has to like you.